Cardiac catheterization

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Cardiac Catheterization (KATH-e-ter-i-ZA-shun) is a medical procedure used to diagnose and treat certain heart conditions. A long, thin, flexible tube called a catheter is put into a blood vessel in the patient's arm, groin (upper thigh), or neck and threaded to the heart. Through the catheter, doctors can perform diagnostic tests and treatments on the heart.

Sometimes a special dye is put into the catheter to make the insides of the patient's heart and blood vessels show up on x rays. The dye can show whether a material called plaque (plak) has narrowed or blocked any of the heart’s arteries (called coronary arteries).

Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in your blood. The buildup of plaque narrows the inside of the arteries and, in time, may restrict blood flow to the heart. When this happens, it’s called coronary artery disease (CAD).

Blockages in the arteries also can be seen using ultrasound during cardiac catheterization. Ultrasound uses sound waves to create detailed pictures of the heart’s blood vessels.

Doctors may take samples of blood and heart muscle during cardiac catheterization, as well as do minor heart surgery.

Cardiologists (doctors who specialize in treating people who have heart problems) usually perform cardiac catheterization in a hospital. The patient is kept awake during the procedure, and experiences little or no pain, although they may feel some soreness in the blood vessel where the doctor put the catheter. Cardiac catheterization rarely causes serious complications.